The Locomotion Principle

Posted by on Aug 3, 2015 in Uncategorized | 1 comment

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We’re so excited to be working with two wonderful and talented interns for the seventh issue of Spry Literary Journal. This post is the second in our series of alternating blog posts from Faith and Preston. Need to get caught up? Check out Faith’s first post here, and Preston’s here

Post 2 – The Locomotion Principle; Why Won’t My Piece Move? (Or, a partial dictionary for words that start with “m.”)

Diligently and daily, I have been working my way through the queue of submissions in our manager, all of whom gleam at me wearily from their positions in line, asking for decisions swift and determined— the guillotine or the magazine, please. And, unfortunately, but expectedly, I find myself casting a few a day to the chopping block with a fairly “off with its head” kind of gumption. And those that don’t make the cut? Most often, they are lacking what we as a staff refer to as “momentum.”

                              momentum: 1. force or speed of movement; impetus, as of a physical object or course of events (according to

A loose, vague concept at its surface, momentum is the crux of so much of what we write and read. A shout into the void, a quiet whisper between sisters, a bald-faced confession, an underhanded apology— all of these are trying to do two inextricable things; to take us and to move us. Those pieces that are successful manage to fulfill the hopeful and overused verbs of every editor— they grab, entice, ensnare, take, captivate, fascinate, seize, shock, and stay us. In the act of being caught, the very best pieces “move” us into new territory and fresh language; in arresting our thoughts they jerk us away from the drum of voices around us always, and they transport us into one voice, one head, one recorded experience.

Okay, but how does one go about imbuing their work with this illusory, desired trait? I think one of the best ways is mimicry. Mimicking other people’s work is an often-underrated tool that we can use to improve, one that is frequently cast aside because of our proud protection of the rights of original creators, and our belief in the magic of authenticity. Both those ideals, while valid and vital to our craft, should not get in the way of the exercise of trying to do what someone else is doing, however.

In my first Creative Writing class, the first month was spent reading canonical poets and emulating them— I took Creely’s stilted structure and lack of “proper” punctuation into a horrible pastoral poem and I took the long, unbroken line and dark subject matter of Ginsberg’s “Howl” to write an equally awful poem about black sheep and secret-keeping. I’m not proud of either poem as they stand, but the skills I learned from being a copycat for those weeks have been invaluable to my writing career. These simple exercises showed me what voice was, and how one could work at one’s craft, polish at it, to get to their own voice.

To mimic is not to copy, but rather to choose something about a piece that is particularly favorable to you and to write whatever that may be into something of your own. As technically “grown-up” writers, this can often feel false, because it allows us to use an influence that, probably, will render the final piece un-usable in the sense that publishers won’t want it because it sounds too much like whoever we were trying to emulate. But writing is not the art of collecting our own pieces— it is the art of developing skills with which better and better pieces may be written. To develop a skill is to see it executed and to try it out for yourself. What better place to try something than in a piece you know you probably won’t use?

To mimic momentum, I suggest finding pieces you feel take you great distances by their ends, and picking them apart to find what gives them their locomotion. The key to tempo and mobility can be found in unlikely places: syntax, diction, sentence length, even punctuation use (or intentional misuse as is often the case). So, if I were to offer any suggestions to fellow writers who feel stuck, and who receive feedback in their pieces related to movement, I would say remember that momentum is the taking and the going someplace and that mimicry is one of the best ways to learn how to turn momentum to do a piece’s bidding. Just as it allowed me to find one of many ways to develop voice, mimicry can help us find a way to go about developing the illusory, the desired, the well received and always sought after, momentum.

plane photoFaith Padgett was born and raised in the suburbs of Texas and is currently a Creative Writing/Spanish double major at Oberlin College in northern Ohio. Her poems have appeared in Hanging Loose and several anthologies including the Poetry Society of Texas’ student anthologies and the YoungArts anthology for 2014. She has won several Scholastic regional silver and gold keys, and was a semi-finalist in the Presidential Scholars program in 2014. When not working for Spry or writing, Faith can be found sipping tea with a book of poetry or walking through the prairie with one of her four adopted mutts. 

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1 Comment

  1. A brilliant and very impressive young lady.

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